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John Smallwood: Young Blackhawks have staying power

C'MON, CHICAGO, you couldn't have really thought it was going to be that easy. After going 49 years without the Stanley Cup, you couldn't have believed the Blackhawks were going to do this without turning your insides into knots - could you?

C'MON, CHICAGO, you couldn't have really thought it was going to be that easy.

After going 49 years without the Stanley Cup, you couldn't have believed the Blackhawks were going to do this without turning your insides into knots - could you?

Be realistic.

This was never going to be easy.

You had to know that last night's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals was destined to go to overtime before the opening faceoff.

The Blackhawks were trying to clinch their first title since 1961.

The Flyers were trying to continue the pursuit of their first Cup since 1975 by extending this series to a decisive Game 7 back in Chicago.

With nearly 85 years of combined frustration in play, the idea that either team was going to win this game in regulation was almost comical.

Even in victory, it took a little more time for the league's War Room to review and then officially rule that the Cup-clinching goal by Patrick Kane had indeed slipped under Flyers goalie Michael Leighton's pad and fully crossed the goal line before bouncing back out.

The surreal image of the Blackhawks joyfully celebrating while a sellout crowd at Wachovia Center hadn't really figured out what had happened seemed appropriate.

"I was hoping to God it was an actual goal," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "I didn't want to celebrate for nothing.

"Oh my God, it's like that commercial. I'm speechless."

No such worry, and when a franchise has already waited nearly a half-century for this moment, what's an extra 4 minutes?

In the end, the only thing that matters is that Kane's goal won the game, 4-3, the series, four games to two, and ended the longest active championship drought in the NHL.

But now that the drought has ended, the real question is: Are we witnessing the birth of a dynasty?

When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called out Toews to "come hoist the Stanley Cup," for the Hawks, the 22-year-old became one of the youngest players to receive such an honor.

"We still have to check the birth certificate to make sure he's only 21 or 22, whatever he is," Blackhawks wing Patrick Sharp said of Toews.

In Chicago, they probably aren't thinking too much about tomorrow right now.

It's understandable that the moment is all that matters right now.

When a franchise ends a nearly half-century trek through the wilderness, the celebration should be over the top.

Imagine what Chicago will be like when/if the Cubs ever end more than 100 years of World Series futility.

Still, when you look at this Chicago team and realize how young it is, you can't help but think this could be a regular occurrence over the decade.

Toews' youth is representative of the entire team.

Of the players that logged any significant minutes for Chicago last night, only right wing Marian Hossa and defenders Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell are over 30.

The goal scorers were Toews, Dustin Byfuglien (25), Patrick Sharp (28) and Andrew Ladd (24).

Antti Niemi, the goalie who fended off a desperate effort by the Flyers to push this series to a seventh game, is a 26-year-old rookie.

Niemi didn't let the goal by Scott Hartnell, which tied the score with the Blackhawks less than 4 minutes from the Cup, stay with him into overtime.

In fact, Niemi made one of the biggest saves in Blackhawks history when he stopped a shot by Jeff Carter from point-blank range less than 2 minutes into overtime.

In the dynamic Kane (21), Chicago has a player who has proved to be one of the brightest young stars in the game. He won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in 2007-08 and hasn't looked back.

Nothing matures youth more than early success.

Toews was the third overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. Kane was No. 1 overall in 2007.

In their rookie season, Kane and Toews led the Blackhawks to 88 points, their highest total since 2001-02.

The following season, Chicago ended a 5-year absence from the playoffs, and last season the Blackhawks reached a conference final for the first time since 1994-95.

Now, they've hoisted the Stanley Cup.

"We knew from Day 1 of this season that we had the potential to do it," Toews said. "To realize our goal, it's an amazing feeling.

"There's so many great things about winning a Stanley Cup. This is the best feeling you can ever get playing hockey."

It might become a habit.

It took Michael Jordan seven seasons before he led the Bulls to the first of their six NBA championships.

Toews, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Kane have captured their first in just three.

That doesn't mean that the Blackhawks will dominate the NHL the way Jordan and the Bulls dominated the NBA, but for a team to become a champion with this much youth presents a world of possibilities for the future.

Chicago has endured through the drought. Now it might be on the verge of celebrating through a dynasty.

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